Stampede: Driving Force for Innovation

Every once in a while you get to touch on a project of incredible scope and vision.  The Texas Advanced Computing Center system called Stampede is a really good example.  The system was launched in January and was dedicated today in a ceremony in Austin and contains not only 12800 Intel® Xeon®  E5 processors, but also the first Petascale adoption of Intel® Xeon Phi™ Coprocessors (6880 of em which deliver over 7 additional Petaflops of  peak computational performance).. This system was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is the most powerful system in the NSF’s Extreme Science Engineering and Discovery Environment (XSEDE).  Its one of the top 10 most powerful supercomputers in the world and one of the most programmable and accessible.


This system is taking on some of the most interesting challenges in Science and Engineering in the world.  Stampede was intended to take on problems like modeling climate change, predicting earthquakes, studying viruses DNA and molecular behavior, modeling hurricanes and simulating space.

A couple of my favorite of these from early work on Stampede:

An assistant professor at MIT(my alma mater) is conducting computational studies on Stampede to explore new ideas for how to manipulate the surface of substances to do important tasks—like clean the air—that have never done before. Her studies are trying to convert CO2 into usable industrial materials.

A team at University of Texas at Austin is using Stampede to Map Antartica and its Ice Sheets: Stampede’s  advanced design helps researchers map the Antarctic terrain by running thousands of simulations of how the earth, water, ice and wind interact.  Scientists can calculate what the earth must be to create the surface effects we see.

Scientists are using Stampede to develop new methods to quickly pull together massive amounts of data from MRI scans and to combine this data with biophysical models to better represent the full extent of tumor growth in a patient. Their research requires large amounts of complex computations and Stampede exactly fills the bill.

When you put it all together, there are a lot of new applications based on the research activities of thousands of scientists over decades.

How can it do that?  The system has two portions.  It has a traditional cluster architecture based our Xeon E5 processors, but also what the NSF calls their “Innovation Capability” with Intel Xeon Phi coprocessors at its heart.  The power in Stampede is that while the Innovation portion of the machine drives up performance per watt, performance density and parallelism to new levels, it does so with a programming model that is completely compatible with the traditional portion of the system. So we get to the point where we can take advantage of the ease of programming of Intel Architecture products combined with the scaling capability of Intel Xeon Phi coprocessors.  Research Scientists and Engineers have developed algorithms over many years and realized that code on Intel processors, can follow a straight forward process to transition to the higher core counts and performance density portion of the system.  They get to preserve their intellectual legacy and start to stretch for new insights more quickly.

I love it when we focus on the real science and applications in our work.  HPC matters most when it changes how people will live in the future.  It does this when new technology is born, or new insights brought to science, or new cures found to disease or find more energy reserves.

The new Stampede system will only change the world.  That’s what we do at Intel.  Stampede’s future is bright.  Stampede is due to be upgraded with next generation Intel® Xeon Phi™ products when they become available.  We are excited to be a part of this vision.

Hats off to Jay and the team for a job brilliantly begun.